Gunmen abducted an Italian priest who was on his way to a remote village to celebrate Sunday Mass in the southern Philippines, police said.
Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, 57, was riding his motorcycle in Zamboanga Sibugay province's Payao township, about 500 miles south of Manila, when about 10 armed men blocked his path and seized him, said Francisco Cristobal, the provincial police chief.
Fr. Bossi is a member of the Pontificio Instituto Missioni Estere (PIME) and was assigned as parish priest of Payao in April. Sundalo Jianni, an official from the mission, appealed to the priest’s abductors to free him.
According to a report by The Associated Press, Cristobal said he suspects Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels who operate in Zamboanga Sibugay, despite a cease-fire agreement with the government.
Cristobal said police received reports that the group boarded two boats, possibly to flee to nearby islands. Police and the military are searching for the priest with land and coastal patrols, he added.
Mohagher Iqbal, a peace negotiator for the rebel group, denied Moro militants are behind the abduction.
Hours after the kidnapping, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the abductions of priests and others around the world and said he was praying for all those who were being held hostage.
"I direct my appeal to the authors of these abominable acts, so that they realize the wrong they have done and quickly return their prisoners to their loved ones," Benedict said.